Meridian Star

March 19, 2012

Star Of The Week: Lynn Gaddis

By Brian Livingston /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     There was once a little boy who walked along a beach filled with struggling starfish that had been washed up by a fearsome surf.

    The boy was casually tossing as many of the starfish back into the ocean as he could. An old man watched from a distance, amused at the little boy.

    After a time, the old man approached the boy and said, "I don't know why you are wasting your time with that. There are thousands of starfish on the beach. what difference are you going to make?"

    The boy picked up a starfish, tossed it into the ocean, and said, "Made a difference to that one."

    Lynn Gaddis knows she can't change the world but she also knows she can change a little bit of it. She is a difference maker in a person's life. A starfish thrower.

    "I feel blessed with my life," said Gaddis, who is married and has three children and six grandchildren. "The people I've met along the way have made me who I am. It is wonderful."

    And who Gaddis is might surprise many people.

    She is a two-time champion against cancer having lost her leg in 1973 but soldiered on, and just as recently as last year, survived breast cancer and endured a double mastectomy. Toughness has never been a question to those who know Gaddis. However, it wasn't always that way as she admitted to being just a shy girl prior to her first battle with cancer.

    "I guess I was the typical teenaged girl," said Gaddis. "My first and only love was basketball. So when I lost my leg in my senior year, it was tough."

    What was tougher, said Gaddis, who graduated Jefferson Davis Academy in 1973, was seeing the pain on her parent's faces when they told her the radiation therapy, new to medicine and the treatment of cancer in the early '70s, didn't work and she would have to lose the leg above the knee.

    "I didn't really feel as badly for myself as I did for them," Gaddis said. "I could tell they would take this onto themselves if they could. But it was mine to deal with."

    In a way, Gaddis said the amputation helped bring her out of her shyness. She said it made her realize she had better make the best of the situation. She turned herself inside out and became outgoing instead of drawing up more into the shell she once carried with her.

    "It is so much harder to lose a loved one than a leg," Gaddis said. "I found out, although slowed down a little, I could get the job done. No matter what it was."

    She gets jobs done like helping to raise three girls who were like little whirlwinds throughout the house. Hopping around on her good leg was much faster than trying to keep up with those girls with the older version of prosthetic legs, Gaddis said. She learned to do many things by hopping. Whenever she needed the extra support, the crutches would come out first. It was like this for many years until finally technology caught up.

    Gaddis said when she first received her prosthetic leg the Internet was not even a dream. She tried, as did her girls growing up, to keep up with the latest and greatest device that would improve her quality of life. Then one day, three years ago, one of her daughters told her about the C-leg.

    "It is a powered knee and lower leg that contains a microchip," Gaddis explained as she pulled up her left pants leg. "Before with the regular prosthetic leg you had to put so much effort into walking, swinging your hips to get the foot out there so you didn't fall flat on your face."

    With the C-leg, the power is adjusted to the normal gait of the person and there is little effort into the walking motion. Gaddis was ecstatic at the new technology. At a convention in Jackson she was given the opportunity to "test drive" one of the legs.

    "One of the most astounding aspects of the leg was it allowed me to walk up and down steps," Gaddis said.

    Fitted and ready to go, Gaddis approached a demonstration set of stairs. She was determined to make this work. Sweating and grunting to make sure she didn't fall, Gaddis got to the top of the stairs and let out a huge yell while pumping her fist as if she'd just dunked a basketball. She had made it to the top and she knew this was a game changer. She looked down at the group of Methodist Rehabilitation people who were offering this device and the expertise to use it and she saw tears of joy steaming down their faces. This was a defining moment, a revelation to those at the rehab center in Jackson, and to Gaddis, that the people, not the technology, make the difference.

    "I knew right then and there I wanted to work with these people who cared so much for me and their patients," Gaddis said.    

    Gaddis is now the patient care outcomes coordinator. Simply put, Gaddis works closely with patients from the moment they learn they will be amputees all the way through the recovery and rehabilitation process. She said if you want to see bravery, talk to these patients who are faced with the same reality she stared down many years ago.

    "These patients, each of them, are their own success story," Gaddis said. "Seeing them conquer this hurdle makes it all worthwhile."

    Gaddis said it helps the patients to have an amputee to talk them through the trials facing them. But it is mainly about attitude. Gaddis knows first hand how much attitude and faith in God can carry anyone through anything.

    "God gives us a blessing in there somewhere," Gaddis said. "Sometimes we just have to have faith and find it."

    Gaddis has her dream job with Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics. She was splitting time between the location on 14th Street in Meridian and the Jackson location. This was May of 2011. That following September, Gaddis received the news she had breast cancer.

    "Been there, done that," Gaddis said laughing. "I beat it once, I can do it again. I've lost a part of me before and I have to lose something again but you know what? I'm still here."

    The prognosis looks good after Gaddis finished chemotherapy treatments recently.

    "I'm just waiting for my hair to grow back out," Gaddis said still smiling and running her fingers through the wig she wears.

    Gaddis said those who are destined to become amputees need not dread the future nearly as much as in the past. Technology has changed the face of prosthetics to the point in the vast majority of cases, those people receiving these devices actually improve their quality of life like never before. Gaddis knows this to be true. She is living proof.

    To those who she comes in contact with in her duties, she is that person who consoles, informs, educates and cheers on like the coach from the sideline. She wanted to coach basketball. Now she coaches life. And like the little boy in the story, she is making a difference, one life at a time.